Mia Sloth Lundkvist is an assistant professor at the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Aarhus University.

Congratulations on receiving an Inge Lehmann grant!

Please tell us about your research and why is it important.

The grant from the Inge Lehmann programme will allow me to study exoplanets – planets in orbit around other stars than our Sun – that are extremely close to their host star. I will focus my attention on those exoplanets that are somewhat larger than our Earth, but smaller than Neptune; the so-called sub-Neptunes. These exoplanets are affected by evaporation caused by the intense radiation from the nearby host star. This process strips the exoplanets of their outer layers, leaving them as bare rocky cores. By studying these close-in sub-Neptunes, I will investigate the process of evaporation and attempt to learn why some exoplanets seem to be able to hold on to their outer layers, although the theory predicts that they should evaporate away.

My research touches upon one of the questions that always seem to awaken people’s curiosity. By investigating the mechanism of evaporation, we gain knowledge about one of the processes that play a role in sculpting planetary systems, and we can ultimately use this to get a little closer to answer the question of how common a planet like the Earth really is.

What are your plans and what are the possibilities that this grant opens for you?

My plan for the future is to establish my own research group focusing on the interplay between exoplanets and their host stars. The Inge Lehmann grant allows me to expand my network and my knowledge, building the competences I need to become a junior group leader in the near future.

Where have you studied and which positions have you held before your current one?

II did all my studies including my PhD degree at Aarhus University. During this time I spent one semester at the University of Toronto in Canada and one semester at the University of Sydney in Australia. Following my PhD, I moved to Germany where I worked as a post doc at Zentrum für Astronomie der Universität Heidelberg. After three years in Heidelberg I returned to Aarhus University as a post doc before I became an assistant professor earlier this year.

How did you choose the field of physics you are now specialized in?

I have known since I was a young girl that I wanted to become an astronomer, thus it was quite natural for me to study physics when I started university. At the end of the first year, we had to do a project related to waves or optics, and we were presented with different options. One of them was on stellar oscillations, and this immediately caught my interest. Thus, when I had to pick a topic for my bachelor thesis I returned to the stellar oscillations and the rest is history.

What motivated you to study physics?

My interest in stars motivated me to study physics as this is the way into a master’s degree in astronomy at Aarhus University.

Did you have a role model or mentor? If so, what inspiration did you get from them?

I believe that I have had several role models and mentors throughout my time at the University. For instance, I have been lucky enough to work alongside a couple of powerful women who have encouraged me to pursue my dreams and worked tirelessly to provide all the more junior researchers with the best possible research environment. They have taught me to trust my skills and inspired me to strive for a career in science.

What advice would you give to young people (in particular women and minorities) who would like to pursue a career in science?

My advice would be to keep following your dream. Trust your skills and find a mentor that can support you.